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Japan Football: Zaccheroni, Samurai Blue, and general J chatter
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Showing Disgust but Supportively?
Though I had been trying to keep up with the J2 news I've been unable to keep up J2 news for the blog due to other priorities. But I do enjoy the 2nd division league and all the stories that are going on there.


Which is why it was sad to hear that there was supporter trouble during Vegalta Sendai's game against Tokushima Vortis. And the very visible visual kind too, which means the impact of the events is that much bigger in the eyes of the club as well as the league in general. Many football blogs are commenting on how sad they are to have witnessed this, regardless of whether these bloggers were Vegalta fans or not. In Japan, where supporters emphasize cooperative unity and non-violence, every incident (instigated by a small minority) makes a big ripple. So maybe those of you who are visiting from coutries where the football supporter/hooligan scene can get frighteningly violent at its worst may think "what's the big deal"... but there you go, football is still new here, and the overall attitude is highly critical on any form of violence, whether it is verbal or physical. And it does impact the enthusiasm of borderline football fans to come to see games; especially those who think it's unsuitable for children.

Above is a photo (click to enlarge) of several very nasty banners that say things like "Tsunami (the manager), Get Out!", "You should Die, for the sake of Sendai", and "We're sick of hearing excuses!! We won't accept anything but a win", and "Stop further destroying our Sendai, Give us back our Sendai". In particular, the "die" remark has been met with a lot of criticism among all league watchers, as it is seen as going too far.

Then, after the game, where Sendai tied 2-2, the players were making the rounds of their home stadium. As they passed under the area where the above banner was displayed, things started to fly out of the stands, including plastic drink bottles. Some of these objects hit players, and the players got into a shouting match with the supporters in question.

>>Click to watch Video of incident

The big prize when you are a team fighting in the 2nd division is getting to the 1st division. And for Vegalta supporters, this was supposed to be the year they headed in that direction. But with each game, the lead of the front-runners grows and grows (Vegalta are currently 6th out of 12), and the inability of the team to get the full 3 points for each game they play means the team's chances for making it to the J1 are that much more slim.

We have seen before that one incident like this can have lasting repercussions on the relationship between the club and the supporter groups. Last season, there was the incident of Kashima Antler supporters jumping out of the stands and wrestling with some players. Even now the Antlers supporter groups are warily navigating the balance between demanding good performances and showing support for the team during difficult times. Even now there is a bit of awkwardness between the two. This season, we saw how one instance of Kashiwa Reysol supporters invading the away supporter seats after the game (after being goaded by these supporters) ended with two major supporter groups disbanding to show their remorse. And the incident of one person throwing the lid of a public ashtray at opponent supporters during an FC Tokyo game ended with (I believe) an arrest.

Rebuilding that trust and that relationship is extremely hard, and it's even harder if the team in question continues to perform poorly. I know the Vegalta supporters, even those who are 100% against the above acts, are more than a little dissatisfied by the team and the frustration of seeing J1 within the horizon but never quite reaching it is going to keep building. But I hope they will discuss things now and try and stop things from getting any uglier. I guess it's always the million dollar question when you are a supporter: where is that line between supporting whole-heartedly and showing disgust and anger?

But there is one thing I do want to add here at the end. The thing is that in most of these cases the people in question are acting as individuals, not as part of the supporter organization. I think it's important to separate the "individual" from the "organization" and see what goes where. And to not throw the baby out with the bathwater.... I mean, there were supporters who were crying as they saw the bottles flying at the players. The true spirit of support is still alive here, and I hope this will be a positive turning point for everyone.

2005 Nabisco Cup Semi-Finals Leg 1
Urawa Reds 1-3 Jef Chiba

A first minute header from Maki off an Abe free kick threw a wrench in the Urawa machinery. Though Urawa tried to play the rest of the game by dominating possession, it was Jef again (and Maki again) who scored the second goal. Though Ponte came through with a great shot of his own to try and close the gap in the dying minutes of the first half, Jef made sure of their win with a 55th minute goal from Popsecu.

The two major headlines surrounding this game? Well, first, Urawa and fans are not happy at all about the first Maki goal -- a diving (and truly diving, as he hit the ball with his head about a foot off the ground) header that looked to be nudged in by his hand. Reds and manager Buchwald are saying they will make a formal protest to the J-league regarding the refereeing/linesman judges of that, plus also have issue with a second half yellow given to Suzuki for supposedly interfering with the ball prior to a free kick. The Reds side say that it was a Jef player that touched the ball, while Suzuki was trying to distance himself from it. The game wasn't televised on any of the channels I get, so I wasn't able to see it for myself, but it does take the attention away from the nice victory for Jef.

The second headline the sports papers liked to use was the Maki-NT connection. What with the NT roster announcement coming up tomorrow, this would have been the last of the games Zico could use to guide his choices. But with Takahara and Yanagisawa already confirmed as two of the forwards on the roster, I think this was just using Maki as a way to sell papers, as he has other competition in the J league and is at the very bottom in the present NT pecking order.

This loss for Reds at home is a surprise, but knowing how Jef can play a fantastic counter-attacking game, and have the ability to make goals in the narrowest of chances, it may be a sign of growing pains for Urawa -- now that they are considered one of the top teams, they will be forced to hold possession for long stretches of time and that is something they are just getting used to this season.

>>Click to see the Video Highlights Clip of this game provided by J's Goal.

>>Click for post-game interview of Tatsuya Tanaka
>>Click for a post-game interview of Tulio Tanaka
>>Click for Manager Buchwald press conference
>>Click for Manager Osim press conference

Gamba Osaka 1-0 Yokohama F Marinos

Two Gamba/Marinos matchups in one week might be a little anti-climactic for spectators, but for Gamba it was a satisfying result. The game was held 0-0 until the very end, until Araujo's wonderul angled shot at 82 min to the ceiling of the goal from the left gave the victory to the home side. Gamba have continued to show that though they may wobble and do the most wasteful of things during the game, they have the conviction and personnel to nab a win at the last possible moment. I think Gamba was happiest about the fact that they held the opponents to 0, something they have struggled to do this year. But a 1-0 win is still nothing to get too comfortable with, as they won't play the next game until October and by then who knows what the state of both teams will be like by then!

>>Click to see the Video Highlights Clip of this game

>>Click for post-game interview of Tsune Miyamoto
>>Click for Manager Okada press conference
>>Click for Manager Nishino press conference
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